I have just finished watching online a critical discussion on the practice of history held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
In these times of fake news, misleading information, and conspiracy theories. Whom do you trust? What is the truth? Social media is all-encompassing.
This discussion on the practice of history is a dose of hope when political interest groups seek to rewrite the past on their terms.
Maybe this discussion was not a complete cure, but it certainly seems like a ray of sunshine into the swamp of the abyss.
So what did I see?
I watched a panel of learned historians and museum directors discussing launching the Reframing History report by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).
The promotional email I received boasted:
This new initiative provides the field with a set of evidence-backed recommendations to communicate history more convincingly and to build a wider understanding of what inclusive history looks like and why it is important for all of us.
The discussion lived up to the hype.
I highly recommend this lively and challenging discussion to anyone involved in the practice of history. I do not think it matters whether you are from the academy, practise public history, or just like popular history. This discussion should interest you if you are concerned about the long term health of history as a discipline.
Panel Discussion Details
John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH, started the conversation by providing an overview of the project.
That was followed by a discussion by Anthea Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan, Director of the National Museum of American History.
Martha S. Jones, author and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University
Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with Slavery Across America
Jorge Zamanillo, director of HistoryMiami and incoming founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino
The panellists expand on the Reframing History Report and Toolkit by talking about their personal experiences of communicating about history and sharing their recommendations for how history organizations can create environments for positive and productive conversations.
Personal and family stories that family historians and genealogists seek out provide a broader perspective on local histories and local studies of an area. They allow a person to take a look at themselves in the mirror from the past. Insights into our ancestors provide a greater understanding of ourselves in the present. The past informs the present through family and personal histories and places the present us into context.
Family and personal histories allow us to see and understand that we are greater than just ourselves. We are all part of a continuum from the past. The present is only a transitory phase until tomorrow arrives.
Looking at the past through personal and family histories gives a context to our present location on the timeline within our own family. Our own family story is located within the larger story of our community. Personal and family stories remind us daily of our roots and our ancestors.
We all have a past and it is good to be reminded of it occasionally. This is a job that is well done by thousands of enthusiastic family historians and genealogists and their creation of family trees and our connections to our ancestors.
We all need an appreciation of the stories from the past to understand how they affect and create the present. The past has shaped the present and the present will re-shape the future. Our ancestors created us and who we are, and we need to show them due respect. We, in turn, will create the future for our children and their offspring.
One local family were the Pattersons of Elderslie and one of their descendants, Maree Patterson, to seeking to fill out their story. She wants your assistance. Can you help?
The Patterson family of Elderslie
Maree Patterson has written:
I moved from Elderslie in 1999 to Brisbane and I have tried unsuccessfully to find some history on the family.
I am writing this story as I have been trying to research some of my family histories on my father’s side of the family and I feel sad that I never got to know a lot about his family.
My father, Laurence James Henry Patterson, was a well-known cricketer in the Camden district. He was an only child and he didn’t really talk much about his aunts, uncles, and cousins.
My grandfather passed away when I was young. Back then I was not into family history and I’ve hit a stumbling block. I’m now in need of some assistance.
I would really like to find out some history on the Patterson family as I have no idea who I am related to on that side of my family and I would like to pass any family history down.
At the moment I am seeking any help as the following is the only information that I have on the Patterson family.
H Patterson arrives in Elderslie
My great grandfather was Henry Patterson (b. 16 July 1862, Kyneton, Victoria – d. 11th July 1919, Camden, NSW). Henry arrived in Elderslie from Victoria in the 1880s with his wife Catherine (nee Darby) and they became pioneers in the Camden district.
Henry Patterson was a carpenter by trade and worked around the Camden area for various businesses. He and his wife, Catherine had 7 children, all of whom were born in Camden.
They were Ethel Adeline (b. 9 June 1886), Clarice Mabel (b. 14 May 1888), Isabella (b. 2nd June 1890), William Henry (b. 8 May 1892), Stanley Dudley (b. 5 October 1894), Ruby Lillian (b. 24 March 1899 and who passed away at 5 months of age) and Percy Colin (b. 13 January 1903). [Camden Pioneer Register 1800-1920, Camden Area Family History Society, 2001]
Henry’s wife dies
Henry sadly lost his wife Catherine in 1910 at only 47 years of age, which left him to raise 6 children.
Henry remarried in 1912 to Martha Osmond (nee Boxall) from Victoria.
Henry died on 11 July 1929 in Camden District Hospital after pneumonia set in following an operation. Martha, who was well known and respected throughout the district passed away on 18 May 1950 at the age of 86 years of age. She broke her leg and had become bedridden for some months.
Henry’s son goes to war
Henry and Catherine’s 5th child, Stanley Dudley Patterson, was a farmer in Elderslie. He enlisted in the 1/AIF on 18 July 1915 and was sent off to war on 2 November 1915. He was wounded and as his health continued to decline he was sent back to Australia in February 1917.
Voluntary Workers Association helps local digger
Upon Stanley Patterson’s return to Elderslie, a meeting was held by the Camden Branch of the Voluntary Workers’ Association.
They approved the building of a three-roomed weatherboard cottage with a wide verandah front and back to be built at 7 Purcell Street, Elderslie. He was married to Maud Alice Hazell.
Construction of VWA cottage
The land on which the cottage was to be built was donated by Dr. F.W. and Mrs. West. Once the cottage was completed Stanley secured a mortgage to repay the costs of building the cottage. I believe that the construction of this cottage started in either late February or late March 1918.
Carpentering work had been carried out by Messrs. H.S. Woodhouse, A. McGregor, E. Corvan, and H. Patterson. The painters were Messrs. F.K. Brent, J. Grono, A.S. Huthnance. E. Smith, Rex May and A. May under the supervision of Mr. P.W. May. The fencing in front of the allotment was erected by Mr. Watson assisted by Messrs. J. E. Veness, C. Cross, and J. Clissold. [Camden News]
Official handing over of VWA cottage
Stanley Patterson’s cottage in Elderslie, which was the first cottage built by the Voluntary Workers’ Association was officially opened by Mr. J.C. Hunt, M.L.A. on Saturday 15 June 1918.
The Camden News reported:
A procession consisting of the Camden Band, voluntary workers, and the general public, marched from the bank corner to the cottage, where a large number of people had gathered.
Mr. Hunt, who was well received, said he considered it a privilege and an honour to be invited to a ceremony of this kind, for when those who had fought for us needed help it was our duty to give that help, for they had fought for us needed help it was our duty to give that help, for they had sacrificed so much for us. Although Private Patterson had returned from active service, he had offered his life for us. Mr. Hunt congratulated Pte. Patterson on responding to the call of duty; soldiers did not look for praise, the knowledge of having done their duty to their country was all they required. He hoped that Pte. and Mrs. Patterson would live long to enjoy the comforts of the home provided for them by the people of Camden.
[Camden News, Thursday 20 June 1918, page 1]
Appeal for photographs of VWA cottage by CE Coleman
CE Coleman took a few photos of the VWA cottage handed over to Pte. Patterson. These included: one in the course of construction; the official opening; the gathering that had assembled on the day; and a photo of Pte. Patterson. To date, I have searched high and low for these photos but to no avail. The only photo of a cottage built by the Voluntary Workers’ Association is a cottage at 49 Broughton Street, Camden for returned soldier Pt. B. Chesham. [Camden Images Past and Present] [Camden News, Thursday, 20 June 1918, page 4]
VWA cottage is a model farm for other returning soldiers
The Camden News reported:
MODEL POULTRY FARM
Stanley Patterson settled down in his new cottage on 1¼ acres and was determined to make good and earn a livelihood and cultivated the land and planting a small apple and citrus orchard and a vineyard. It wasn’t long before he purchased an adjoining piece of land of another 1¼ acres and within a few more years added another block, giving him 3 ¾ acres.
By 1935, Stanley Patterson owned 14 acres in the vicinity of Elderslie. With his apple and citrus orchard and vineyard, Stanley went into poultry farming as well with particular attention given to the production of good and profitable fowls and he had over 1,000 birds, mainly White Leghorns and Australorps with an extra run of the finest standard Minorca.
In 1935, the progeny test of Stanley Patterson’s birds held a record of 250 eggs and over and the distinctive productivity of these is in the fact that he collects eggs in an off period equal to numbers in flush periods. The marketing value is therefore enhanced. The pens are well divided into different sections, the buildings being on the semi-intensive system each with its own separate run. The brooder house is fitted with the Buckeye principle brooders, also has run for young chicks. The incubator house is a separate identity fitted with a Buckeye incubator of 2,000 eggs capacity, hot air is distributed by means of an electric fan. Feed storage and preparation shed and packing room are conveniently attached and the model poultry farm is one that stands out only to the credit to the industrious owner, but to the district in which it is worked.
In 1935 day old chicks were sold for 3 Pounds per 100 or 50 for 32/-. Day old Pullets were sold for 7 Pounds per 100, eggs for hatching sold for 25/- per 100 and Custom hatching 8/- per tray of 96 eggs. [Camden News, Thursday 20th June 1935, page 6]
My grandfather WH Patterson
My grandfather was William Henry Patterson, the 4th child born to Henry and Catherine Patterson. He was a carpenter like his father and following his marriage to Ruby Muriel Kennedy in 1918, he purchased some acreage in River Road, Elderslie. He had a vineyard, flower beds, fruit trees and other crops on a small farm.
William built his own home at 34 River Road, Elderslie in the early 1920s with some assistance from another builder. The home was a double brick home with a tin roof and consisted of two bedrooms, a bathroom, lounge room, kitchen, laundry and a verandah around 3 sides.
Inside the home, there were a lot of decorative timber and William had also made some furniture for his new home. This home has since gone under some extensive renovations but the front of the home still remains the same today and recently sold for $1.9 million.
As a carpenter William worked locally in the Camden district and on several occasions worked at Camelot. Unfortunately, I have no other information on William.
Contemporary developments at 34 River Road, Elderslie.
Jane reports she is the current owner of 34 River Road Elderslie and has loved finding out about the history of the house. She purchased the house two years ago (2018) and is currently renovating the house interior.
I have been working with Nathan Caines from Fernleigh Drafting & Melanie Redman Designs for the interior, coming up with some beautiful concepts. The original exterior of the house will not be changed, but there will be some amazing changes out the back.
Percy Colin Patterson, the 7th child born to Henry and Catherine Patterson married Christina N Larkin in 1932. In the early 1920s, Percy was a porter at Menangle Railway Station for about 5 months before he was transferred to Sydney Station.
Maree’s search continues
Maree Patterson concludes her story by asking:
I am particularly interested in information on the Camden Branch of the Voluntary Workers’ Association which was formed in 1918.
The WVA built the first cottage at 7 Purcell Street, Elderslie for returned World War 1 soldier Pte. Stanley Dudley Patterson, who was my great uncle.
The house still stands today but has had some modifications and I lived in this cottage for a few years after I was born with my parents.
I am particularly interested in trying to obtain copies of these photos if they exist somewhere. Any assistance you can offer would be greatly appreciated or perhaps point me in the right direction to find these photos.
Caylie writes that she had no idea of what she and her husband David Jeffrey would find when they decided to renovate the worst house on the busiest terrace in Milton, a Brisbane suburb. She says that they had no idea of the treasures they would find ‘secreted inside the house’.
A curious online community of amateur sleuths began a relentless quest for answers. As more clues were revealed, the ghosts of Old Brisbane started to rise from the depths of people’s memories.
A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.
What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.
The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.” They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.
I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.
To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.
The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.
There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.
The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.
Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.
Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.
Be a Historical Detective Conducting Historical Research
Steps involved in being a historical detective and conducting an investigation (historical research).
Like any good TV detective, you should proceed through several steps while conducting your investigation (historical research). You will then be able to solve the historical mystery. These steps are:
1. What is a historical detective? 2. What is historical research? 3. What has to be done in historical research? 4. Plan of action 5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)? 6. Conduct background research. 7. Gather evidence. 8. Evaluate the evidence. 9. Analyse the evidence. 10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process. 11. Present the evidence. 12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence. 13. Conclusion.
These steps outline a journey ( a voyage of discovery) you can undertake while conducting a historical investigation.
These steps are only a guide and another detective (researchers) may take a different approach.
There are many paths to the ‘truth’ and ‘enlightenment’. Which one are you going to going to take?
Description of each stage of the historical investigation
1. What is a historical detective?
The proposition that I want you to imagine is that you are a detective and that you are going to go on a voyage of discovery.
To be a historical detective assumes that there is a historical mystery of some sort.
History is full of good mysteries.
What is a historical mystery? A historical mystery is a secret, hidden story or an inexplicable matter that happened in the past. For example, there have always been stories and mysteries about Grandad, Aunt Ethyl and cousin Gertrude.
Exercise: Consider a historical mystery you might investigate. What is your historical mystery? ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
2. What is historical research?
You will solve your historical mystery by conducting an investigation (historical research) and discovering what is involved in unravelling the mystery’s secrets.
During your investigation, you will collect lots of information (eg, facts, statistics). This is the evidence. You will use the evidence to build a picture that will, hopefully, solve your mystery.
While undertaking your investigation you will be involved in finding out lots of stories.
Which story is the ‘truth’? Your version of the ‘truth’ may be different from someone else’s version of the ‘truth’.
3. What are you trying to find out?
Before you start your investigation you should know (at least have an idea about) the question you are trying to answer.
The starting point for your research will involve asking simple questions about the mystery:
• What is it (event)? • When did it happen (time)? • Where is it (location)? • Who is involved (participants, suspects)? • What are the circumstances (events)?
Then moving to more complex questions:
• Why did it happen (motivation)? • How did it happen (modus operandi)?
Exercise: What is the question you are trying to answer? ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
4. Plan of action
Before you start your investigation you should draw up a plan of attack.
You should make a timeline with the steps involved in the investigation.
This is the modus operandi for your research.
This may involve questions like:
• Why am I undertaking this journey in the first place? (motivation) • Where am I going to start? • Where am I doing this research project? • What resources do I need to undertake the research? • How long will my journey of discovery take me (man-hours)? • What am I going to do along the way? • Where am I likely to finish up?
A well-planned investigation will help you from retracing your steps or leaving something out. Do not leave any stone unturned in your investigation.
Exercise: Where are you going to start your research? …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
How long your investigation going to take? ………………………………………………………………………………………….
Once you have estimated the time needed to complete the research. You might find it useful to set several small goals or mileposts. You can tick off each milepost as you reach that particular point in your research.
Exercise: What are your mileposts? ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Once you have estimated how long the research will take and the steps involved, you need to ensure that you stick to your timetable as much as possible.
5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?
You will need to make a list of the resources that are required for your investigation.
These resources could include: • Administration and office expenses • Research expenses • Travel expenses • Research fees • Computer hardware and software
6. Conduct background research.
Before you start your investigation you should find out has anyone else been there before you. If there has been previous research you need to know:
• What did they find out? • Are you re-inventing the wheel? • Are you actually doing something new? • Are you simply re-hashing old material? If so you might be wasting your time and energy. Find another historical mystery to solve. There are lots around.
A good historical detective could examine the physical scene of the mystery and obtain the ‘lay of the land’. This could involve a field trip to a site or local study area. You could make observations of the scene (location) and record your observations. It helps you ‘get the feel’ of the investigation.
7. Gather evidence
You should gather the evidence in several forms:
• Written evidence from a variety of sources,(eg, libraries, museums, archives, organisational records, newspapers); or making a field trip and recording your observations (eg, memorials, cemeteries, artefacts, objects)
(a) Firstly, the type of evidence that you have gathered to solve the mystery.
This will be either primary or secondary evidence (sources)
(i) Primary evidence (sources)
This is evidence drawn from the time of the mystery.
This can include:
Diaries Letters Posters Official records – government records (eg: birth certificates, death certificates) Newspapers Memoirs Personal records Maps Sketches Paintings Photographs Artefacts Objects Site Anecdotes Ephemera Songs Poems Cartoons Advertisements Human remains – skeletons Oral testimony – interviews
(ii) Secondary evidence (sources)
This is evidence that is reconstructed by others about the mystery.
This can include:
• Books, • TV programs, • Reports.
(b) Secondly, evaluation involves the validation and verification of evidence.
(i) Validation is confirming the details of the evidence. Is it correct?
(ii) Verification will involve cross-checking evidence.
9. Analyse the evidence.
Now you have all the evidence, what are you going to do with it? You will have to:
Organise and arrange all of the evidence. To do this you will need to summarise the evidence. This could be achieved by:
• Completing a timeline (date order of events), a table, maps, lists, tables, mind maps, charts, storyboards.
• Completing a profile of suspects (participants) involved in the mystery.
• Reconstruct scenarios of the mystery and answer questions like:
Why were the participants involved, that is, what was their motivation?
Why did these events occur?
How did these things happen?
• Taking an empathetic approach to help gain an appreciation of what the situation was like in the past to assist in solving the mystery.
10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.
Every now and then you need to pause and re-assess your progress. You need to ask yourself several questions. These could include:
• Are you sticking to your timetable? • Are you staying to your budget? • Are you getting side-tracked? • Are you running up to many dead-ends?
You may be forced to take a step back and make some critical judgements about the progress of your research. If you are not achieving your goals, why not?
Be flexible. Take advantage of the unexpected. Adjust to dead ends. Follow unanticipated leads.
11. Presentation of the research.
Once you completed your investigation (gathered all your evidence and you have organised it, verified its authenticity and validated it) you will have to present it.
The results of your investigation could be presented in several ways:
• Reports • Essays • Poems • Newspaper articles
• Charts • Graphics • TV documentary • Film • Drawings • Photographs • Poster
(c ) Oral
• Speech • Play
Within each of these types of presentation, there are different alternatives. For example, you could consider presenting the written component of your research by using any number of different text types:
• Description – to describe a person, place, object or event. • Recount – to retell past events, usually in date order. • Explanation – tells how (process) and why (reason) something occurred. • Exposition – present one side of an issue. • Information Report – to present information in a general rather than a specific subject. • Discussion – to give both sides of the issue (for/against).
12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.
When you have used material and ideas that are not your own you must acknowledge them. If you do not this it is theft and is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is the theft of another person’s ideas or intellectual property.
Acknowledgement of sources may involve using:
• Footnotes • Endnotes • Bibliography • Reference List • Further reading
An acknowledgement will involve using a referencing system of some type, for example:
• Oxford • Cambridge • Chicago • Harvard • MLA (Modern Language Association of America)
The referencing system you chose will depend on your audience and other considerations. Most publications will put their requirements in a style guide.
Finally, at the end of your investigation (historical research): did you find out the ‘truth’?
References and further reading.
Anderson, Mark & Paul Ashton, Australian History and Citizenship, South Yarra: MacMillan Education, 2000.
Black, Jeremy and Donald M MacRaild Studying History, 2nd Edition, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.
Carr, EH, What is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican, 1964.
Clanchy, John and Brigid Ballard, Essay Writing For Students, A Guide for Arts and Social Science Students, Melbourne: Longman and Cheshire, 1981.
Coupe Sheena, Robert Coupe and Mary Andrew, Their Ghosts May Be Heard, Australia to 1900 2nd Edition, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1994.
Eschuys, Joe Guest and Phelan, Discovering Australian History/Eschuys, Guest, Phelan, South Melbourne: MacMillan, 1996.
Mabbett, IW, Writing History Essays, A Student’s Guide, Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
McCullagh, C Behan, The Truth of History, London: Routledge, 1998.
Warren, John, History and Historians, in series Access to History, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999.
Curthoys, Ann & John Docker, Is History Fiction? University of New South Wales: University of New South Wales Press, 2006.